A proactive media code of ethics

My mind is still spinning as I try to process the events of yesterday at Virginia Tech. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I stumbled across the Pyschological First Aid Field Operations Guide of the Medical Reserve Corps, National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and National Center for PTSD The Core Actions have particularly jumped out at me.

Recently, Tim O’Reilly has drafted a Blogger’s Code of Conduct. It has sparked a lot of interesting discussions. Some have suggested that it is better to work off of the Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics. Others point out that not all bloggers consider themselves journalists.

I’ve often pointed to the rules of MyLeftNutmeg, “Don't be an asshole.” That sums things up pretty nicely, and it is surprising the how difficult it seems for some many people. In my mind, it also ties back to the key of the Hippocratic Oath, to do no harm.

Whether you are talking about shock radio, rap, a lot of the political punditry, or many other forms of media, none of these rules seem to be followed.

Yet coming up with a “do no harm” type code seems somehow lacking, especially in light of yesterday. Instead, it seems like we need a media code of ethics that is proactive, that essentially performs key tasks of psychological first aid. Because of this, I’ve taken some of the core actions of the PFA Field Operations Guide, and adapted them to a general statement which is a code I would like to see many people in media, both old and new, strive towards:

We will seek to respond to contacts initiated by people, or initiate contacts in a non-intrusive, compassionate, and helpful manner. We will seek to enhance immediate and ongoing safety, and provide physical and emotional comfort. We will seek to calm and orient emotionally-overwhelmed/distraught people. We will seek to identify immediate needs and concerns of our audience and tailor our message accordingly. We will seek to offer practical help to people in addressing immediate needs and concerns. We will seek to help establish contacts with other sources of support. We will seek to provide information to reduces distress and promote adaptive functioning. We will seek to inform and link people with available services.

I realize that all of these goals cannot be achieved all of the time. I realize that some people will be satisfied simply with doing no harm, and I realize that some people actually like being assholes. A lot of people may not agree to this proactive code of ethics, but that is some of the beauty of such codes. People can adopt the SPJ code, O’Reilly’s code, this code, the MyLeftNutmeg code, or many other codes. I simply hope that more people will focus not only on doing no harm, but actually doing some good.

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